We’re into Year 2 of mandatory reporting on Gender Pay Gaps, and there is a certain frisson of excitement around what progress has or has not been made since the first results were published last year. Three data points are of course much better than two, so next year might be the first one to give us a true sense of trajectory, but there will be a lot of interest to see how far companies have moved. And in what direction – it’s not at all certain that they will all see a narrowing of the gap.
I attended one meeting, organised jointly by London Business School and King’s College Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, at the LBS’ smart premisses on the Marylebone Road. There were interesting insights from research into last year’s returns. One analysis, by Aneeta Rattan, covered the narratives which accompanied the returns, rather than the pay data itself. Providing a narrative is not mandatory, unlike the data (for organisations with over 250 employees), but many organisations chose to do so, to explain where they were or where they plan to go, or just for PR reasons. Delving into these will provide good insights to come.
Laura Jones from the LBS showed results from a synthesis of 170 studies on the gender gap (that number is set to soar with the mountain of new data available). One familiar pattern is the parenthood > part-time work > flat/no career progression. It’s clear that offering flexibility at work is no great advantage unless the culture also changes, so that people working non-traditional patterns are seen as just as engaged and aspirational as anyone else. (This chimes exactly with my Paula Principle argument for ‘reverse convergence.) Laura pointed out that whilst having clear and transparent standards is generally a good idea it can actually be dangerous if the culture isn’t right. The default position for all jobs should be that they are offered on a flexible basis, unless there is specific reason for not so doing.
The next day I went to a meeting organised at the Pensions and Life Savings Association, featuring a report by the High Pay Centre on corporate reporting by FTSE 100 companies. Two items struck me:
- only 24% of them included anything on training, and there is little on the distribution of training, ie who gets what
- part-time doesn’t necessarily mean insecure work, but when companies don’t report anything about the proportion of staff that are part-time that raises red flags, according to Diandra Soobiah of Nest (the pension vehicle for 7m people).
If you put these together, you get an interesting challenge: how do we know whether part-timers are getting equal training opportunities – and even if they do, do these lead anywhere? Janet Williamson of the TUC, another speaker, said getting the picture on this is a challenge, but since these companies are very large they should be able to put their hands on it. It’s the kind of thing I’d like to see figuring in the narratives the accompany GPG reporting.
One other highly relevant issue. Today’s Guardian contains an analysis of the GPG in the public services by Anna Bawden and Pamela Duncan. It’s a critical report, showing how poorly this public service is doing. One very tricky angle is to do with outsourcing. Tonbridge and Malling council has outsourced refuse collection and street cleaning; since these are predominantly poorly paid jobs done by men, it has worsened their GPG. The opposite effect has happened in another council, Thanet, but with the same logic: they outsourced low paid typically female jobs in administration and customer services and as a result have seen their GPG transformed into a large gap in favour of women.
So: lots of information coming our way; lots of interpretation needed; and tracking over time. I’ll be resuming service shortly as a ShareAction AGM activist to ask more questions at a few of the annual get togethers.